Chiming in on the School Media Specialists Debate

Today I was conferring with @spiderbrigade about a project we’re working on together. Somehow we got off the topic of navigation schemes to the topic of school media specialists.

My Student Experiences
School media specialists (or school librarians, take your pick of moniker) are charged with managing your children’s libraries. When I was growing up (graduated high school in 2004), the librarians were very traditional. Teachers would drop the class off and the librarians would point out some resources like encyclopedias. There was no talk of literacy or evaluating resources. They gave us hand outs about how to cite resources. Sometimes the librarian would pull all the books about the subjects of our papers and leave them on a table for us to fight over. Otherwise they were very hands off.

What School Librarians Said
When I entered library school in August 2009, I meant to get my certification as a school media specialist so I’d have a broader set of options when I went job hunting. I then hit a brick wall in one of my school media courses when it was revealed the school media program was explicitly geared towards people who were already teachers. My teacher wanted us to go into a school and know all subjects for all grades at any point in time. As well as pursue intense collaboration projects, teach information literacy, write papers, etc. When I interviewed local school librarians and those from my hometown, they just laughed. It was impossible because of:

  • teachers are overwhelmed and not being paid for extra hours required of them (NC is looking into either adding school days to the calendar or making the days longer or removing teacher planning periods)
  • many older teachers are not interested in collaborating and/or suspicious of “newfangled” librarians
  • the librarian has no assistants so they can barely scrap by doing the minimal amount of work let alone arguing with dozens of uncooperative teachers
  • one librarian told me that teachers had called her “a free babysitter”

On the flip side, many new teachers LOVE collaborating. Once a project goes off successfully, the teacher takes it back to their pod/group/grade and next thing the librarian sees are four more teachers wanting to collaborate. This is amazing. There is just not enough time to work with everyone!

There is no solution at the current time. North Carolina recently decided to rip into the education budget so teachers are going to be stretched even further. I applaud my teacher for her lofty visions of what school librarians can do, it is also currently impossible in many schools to get to that superior ranking in services offered to students and teachers. The danger is that as a profession, we are pushing for the collaborator and information literacy model, but our hands are tied. Therefore the public thinks librarians are dispensable since we do not have the time or the interest of our coworkers to be more than the guardian of the books.

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